Starting just at the outbreak of Spring and Hope, like the nearby Ganaraska river overflowing with vigor, the Toronto Blue Jays commence their fifteenth season since winning two World Series in a row. And to hopefully inspire the birds not emulate their Maple Leaf co-denizens, I have started a coverage of the Blue Jays in particular, baseball more widely, and sports in general on this site.
I know its smacks of the Queen City mold – Toranna the Media Tyrants. But bear with me, I shall try to spread the blessings across Canada – and bring local pictures and stories into the mix. Most of the Blue Jays action will appear on our sister publication, Pix Of Toronto, so go there if you want a brace of Jays every day or 3. Now without further introduction:
Spring Baseball in Toronto
Spring has barely sprung this year in Toronto and Southern Ontario. For the first time in a few decades, there are still great soot snow and black ice mounds lining the sidestreets. And the Blue Jays, the real birds of a feather, have yet to make much of a comeback to the countryside. Ditto for the baseball Blue Jays harboring in warm grapefruit confines and just of late showing a bit of the winning sparkle that is going to be required in the AL East – arguably one of the toughest divisions in Baseball. Look how many World Series playoff teams have come from the division in the last 20 years. As Coach used to say all that Spring stuff is Pretend, now the real March begins as the calendar flips to April Fools and beyond.
Now it may be the weather or it may be the ever repeating playoff swoon song of Toronto’s other major league teams, but there is a Pro Sports funk in the Queen city. Toronto’s hockey Maple Griefs have found another way to miss the playoffs (dutifully done for the past 10 years) while the Toronto basketball Raptors are yoyoing their way down and possibly out of a playoff berth. too (a sympathy slide as both clubs are owned by the same Gardens Griefs Co-operative). But gosh darn its been 15 years since the Blue Jays won back to back World Series. Or maybe the sense of malaise is due to the Juice.
Maybe its Just the Juice
Baseball, for reasons known only to its vaunted Commissioner and his club-owner cohorts, has deemed it suitable to ignore the Juice until the tippy toe end of this last year. Now Baseball fans in North America are getting a taste of the Steroids Juice that has brought a bitter taste and infected cycling in Europe and staggered the once proud Tour de France. And America has already seen the Juice splatter over its track and field greats right up to track queen Marion Jones who is in the Slammer for 5 years. Tell me again Commish, why did you and your cohort owners turn an absolutely blind eye towards steroid’s use in Baseball? Why did you have to wait until Congress laid the damning facts before the public? Why do we now have asterisked records and tainted Cy Young award winners ?
So maybe its the Juice or the economic downturn, but quite a few of our Tim Hortons Sports Junkies are just a bit leery about even talking about Baseball. Yeah, sure the tantalizing questions like whether the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas will come around and start bashing home runs as of old … and then there are Juice whispers. So the conversation darts over to how well the Doc is throwing – but yikes that reminds Harry of the time he saw Roger “the Dodger” Clemens in Blue Jays spring training camp and he looked in Cy Young form – which he went on to uhh – “win”. So the conversation moves on Tennis and Figure Skating, where Canadian Chris Buttle just won the World Championship’s gold medal. And yeah, the women skiers are starting to tear up the slopes.
So, in order to talk baseball, I would have to pull out the glove and limber up the arm with the neighbourhood Sports whiz, Mikey. He has a nice curve and hints of a slider – and can bring more heat than this old side arm hurler. And Mikey follows the Jays and thinks Aaron Hill will have a breakout year (he’s batting 400++ in the Grapefruits), Vernon Wells will bat better this year and continue to Golden Glove center field. He’s suspects Alex Rios will do a Wells, take a hitting slump in the first year of a big $60M contract. But as always with Mikey, the pitching rotation is key. The Jays have had the fortune of having a great first man, Doc Halladay in the fiveman rotation, but after that … well as Mikey says “they have spent a lot”.
But the truth is you need two if not three 14++ game winners with solid 3.3 ERA or less in the starting rotation to do well in the AL East. And its still an open question whether RHP A.J. Burnett who has been dogged with injuries or RHP Dustin McGowan or managing to step up after last years promise. But an all Right Handed Pitching rotation may be a liability in some AL parks. And the relief staff has its ace, B.J. Ryan still recovering from Tommy John surgery. But of even more import is assessment that pitching in the AL East hs gotten even better with Tampa bay now being really in the mix. And as for hitting, the Jays may not have home run power (Vernon Well must do better than 16 from last year, and Frank Thomas cannot continue a downward skid); but they have a good OBP-On Base Percentage. They are going to ned it because the Yankees last year produced a record 968 runs and Boston, gee I think they can hit.
Fielding should be improved especially at catcher and the team speed will remain the same – not daunting. The Jays have only one rookie, RHP Randy Wells, on board and the ScoutingBook see only one Jay in the top 50 prospects for 2008. In contrast, Tampa Bay and Boston are loaded with 5 and 4 each upcoming players. Injuries have already taken their toll as closer B.J. Ryan continues to recover from Tommy John surgery, Scott Rollen has a fractured finger knocking him out for 4-6 weeks and promising pitcher Chris Janssen is out for the season with a torn labrum.
Part of Winning is winning in the good luck derby – and maybe the Jays have ditched all their bad luck and can start to roll. But their division will be even tougher still with perennial doormat Tampa Bay having so much pitching and rookie talent. So like 30 other baseball clubs, the Blue Jays surely have the Spring promise, Hope Springs Eternal, in a year when the Game itself has been tainted and needs a solid dose of Spring Cleaning. Maybe the season will be like tossing the baseball with Mikey, the arm and glove warm up surprisingly to the old pop of pitching and catching. Maybe by doing a little more clean playing, Baseball will find its rhythms and will soothe the soul once again.